… bored room …

The Antipodes is a distasteful play.

I’d found Annie Baker’s play The Flick as dull as dishwater, with no discernible redeeming merit.  Still, I went to this one, The Antipodes, because I was snuckered in by the intriguing publicity art work and because I knew that The Flick had won the Pulitzer Prize, that Baker’s plays had won other prizes, and so I had to ask myself whether I was missing something about dramatist Annie Baker.

My conclusion is that I’m not missing anything:  this is banal, pretentious theater that delivers plays whose interest is based on the audience’s recognition of character types and commonplace actions and speech.  Commonplace life is rarely as tedious and repetitive as in these plays – thank heavens!

For The Antipodes, we’re in a board room with a long central table surrounded by chairs and with a large ink board.  As the characters come in, we learn that this is a team commissioned to come up with a new story (for a movie?), with the boss, Sandy (Will Patton), at the head of the table.  They haven’t been getting anywhere in coming up with a story, so Sandy asks each of them to tell a story drawing upon their personal lives.  One by one they do.  And on and on it goes.  None of these stories makes the grade.  Although Sandy says he never fires anybody, Danny M2 tells about his love for chickens on a farm and he shortly disappears from the group.

What is a story anyhow? — in fact, any of these stories could be profound/exciting/illuminating in the hands of a fine writer.  By the same token, any of these individuals, truly known, would have fascinating depths because that’s how people are when you really get to know them, but there are no fine writers here and that’s not how these stories are meant to be told.  And we’re not meant to even think about depths of character.  We’re meant to see banality, frustration and dead ends.  There’s some implication that civilization is at a dead end, and there are no more stories.

There are always stories — just looks like Annie Baker couldn’t think of one.

Borrowing from the Book of Genesis and combining it with visual images from the medieval world and exotic sources, she finally hands a story that’s got “breakthrough” potential to one of the quieter members of the team, Adam (Phillip James Brannon) – the story he tells is forced, a synthetic pastiche but sufficiently surreal to wake them up (if not the audience).

Will anything come of it?  Take a guess.

Beware of plays that are two hours long with no intermission:  they’re afraid that if you had the chance, you might leave in the break.

The Antipodes, directed by Lila Neugebauer, plays at the Signature Theatre on West 42nd Street in Manhattan through June 11, 2017. For more information and tickets, and a view of the publicity art work, click here.

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